For those of you who look at Harvard's football schedule and say, "Oh, the first four games are warmups for the REAL season," well, you're dead wrong this time. Today's home opener with UMass will test the talent of a new quarterback, the game-breaking abilities of a prodigal wide receiver, and the patience of Big Ten fans in New England.
ABC will broadcast the intrastate clash regionally, beginning at 1:30 this afternoon, and thus jettison coverage of the Oklahoma-Ohio State tilt for the local folks.
Television fans, nevertheless, will be treated to the return and 1977 debut of Harvard' star wide receiver Jim Curry. Curry, one of the outstanding all-around athletes in the Ivy League, returns after missing the last eight games of the 1976 campaign and the Columbia game of last week.
Coach Joe Restic is bubbling over Curry's return to action. "Jim has been very impressive in practice. His cutting ability and speed are vastly improved. He'll be a big plus to have in there," he said.
Unfortunately, the re-arrival of Curry is offset by the loss of starting quarterback Tim Davenport. Davenport, the riflearmed senior, toiled patiently for the two previous seasons behind King Total Offense Jim Kubacki, and finally gained a starting berth this autumn.
But as tragic luck would have it, Davenport suffered a fractured vertebra at the base of his neck last week against Columbia while plunging in for Harvard's first touchdown in the second quarter. He is now out for the season.
Davenport's injury now leaves a vacancy begging to be filled. Of the squad's five remaining quarterbacks, three are in the running for the starting job. Given the complexities of the Crimson's multi-flex offense, and the fact that Davenport virtually majored with honors in the Restic system for three years, one of the three will have big shoes to fill.
Burke St. John, a stocky sophomore, looks like the longshot here. Although a "strong option runner," according to Restic, no soph has ever started a game at quarterback since Restic rode in seven seasons ago.
St. John feels that the multiflex is "a pretty complicated offense. It's tough, but not impossible for a sophomore to run. The juniors have an advantage. I feel confident, though, and would like to get a shot at the job," he said.
One of those advantaged juniors is Mike Kelly, a home-grown product from Watertown who prepped a year at Exeter (of which Curry is a candidate) before hitting the Ivy League. Kelly appears to harbor no butterflies about possibly starting because he has been "getting a lot of work lately" and has had a chance to throw to Curry, who should help out the quarterbacks considerably."
But the signal caller with the inside track on today's starting assignment (despite the fact that Restic will not make if official until about an hour before game time) is junior Larry Brown. Brown, the flaky but superbly gifted two-sport athlete (also a starting pitcher on the baseball team) from nearby Norwood "has looked excellent in practice," according to fullback Chris Doherty, and was the only other QB to see action last week against the Lions.
Whoever lines up behind center this afternoon will definitely be doing some chuckin', as Harvard will probably test the porous Minuteman pass defense, which surrendered five Leamon Hall touchdown passes in its opening loss to Army.
While Coach Dick MacPherson's defensive backs have been a bit of a headache for him, the UMass running backs have been known to bring on a few migraines to opposing coaches. Led by inside man Charles Balboni and outside speedsters Billy Coleman and Dennis Dent, UMass stresses a ball-control of-fense. "Our number one concern is to stop UMass's running game. We must keep their offense off the field." Restic summarized.
Needless to say, the pressure is on the Harvard defense to contain the UMass attack and give its new-faced offense as many chances as possible. Captain Steve Kaseta noted that "UMass thinks that we won't be up for the game because of Timmy's injury. They're wrong."
And so are those who say that this is "just another game.